10 SEC assistants who could be head coaches
Every year, the coaching carousel spins in college football, and sometimes SEC coordinators find themselves as head coaches at new schools.
This year, Kirby Smart, Barry Odom and Will Muschamp each made the step up from coordinator to top dog — and all within the SEC.
Here are 10 assistants who might be parlay success on a SEC staff into the chance to run their own program:
LANE KIFFIN, ALABAMA
No one divides opinion quite like Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, whose name still induces eye rolls from plenty of folks in Knoxville and Southern California.
Nick Saban knows talent, however, and it speaks well of Kiffin’s future coaching prospects that Saban seems to trust him. He’s still young (41), is a good recruiter and has some good coaching experience to offset his not-so-good moments.
Love him or hate him, it seems unlikely that he’ll finish his career as a coordinator.
JEREMY PRUITT, ALABAMA
Pruitt was showing up as a candidate for head coaching jobs when he was still defensive coordinator at Georgia. Taking the same job at Alabama doesn’t exactly hurt his resume.
He was, after all, Saban’s first choice for the job vacated by Smart.
“There was no doubt who I was going to hire,” Saban toid AL.com. “Didn’t interview anybody. Didn’t talk to anybody. Just hired the guy.”
Assuming Pruitt can maintain the same sort of success he had at Georgia and Florida State, some athletic director will probably feel the same way about him.
MARIO CRISTOBAL, ALABAMA
When a program is as successful as Alabama, it gets tougher to hang on to your coaches. Cristobal, who became the first Cuban-American head coach when he took the Florida International job in 2007, could be in line for a second chance.
He was 27-47 with two bowl berths in his six seasons at FIU, and is about to start his fourth season coaching the Tide’s offensive linemen.
He’s a gifted recruiter who will likely get a chance to be a head coach again someday, but right now, he’s pretty happy in Tuscaloosa.
“I think that’s way down the line,” Cristobal told AL.com. ‘That’s something that might be the right thing. But right now, I’m just more than excited, happy, fired up about everything that’s happening here.”
ROBB SMITH, ARKANSAS
Smith started his tenure as the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator with a bang, producing the league’s second-best defense in 2014. That unit slipped a bit in 2015, finishing 11th, but Smith still has the sort of defensive pedigree that turns heads on a resume.
He got a raise and a contract extension after the 2014 season, and another year like that one is going to put him back near the top of wish list for search firms come December.
RHETT LASHLEE, AUBURN
He’s young (32), but the former quarterback under Gus Malzahn at Springdale (Ark.) High School has spent nine years learning Malzahn’s up-tempo offense.
Auburn slipped to 10th in total offense in 2015, but were second in his first two seasons as offensive coordinator. He runs the sort of offense that athletic directors can sell to fan bases, and his boss believes he’s ready for a chance.
“Rhett is a guy that every year is going to be in the conversation about a head coach, and he’ll be a head coach,” Malzahn told AL.com. “He’ll be a head coach in the future. He has everything it takes to do that and every year there’s going to be rumors and talks and all that. He’s a good one.”
He interviewed for the Louisiana Monroe job in December, and with another good year with the Tigers, seems likely to get a chance sooner rather than later.
GEOFF COLLINS, FLORIDA
Collins jumped from Mississippi State to Florida after the 2014 season, and he picked up right where he left off in leading the Gators to a top-five finish in both total and scoring defense.
With a solid eye for recruiting and a track record of developing NFL players, Collins is starting to get noticed nationally.
But for now, he’s happy working with coach Jim McElwain.
“He’s always been one of my favorite people in the business,” Collins told FOX Sports. “So the chance to work for him, work with him, was an opportunity I was excited about.”
EDDIE GRAN, KENTUCKY
Gran was directing high powered offenses at Cincinnati for the past few seasons before taking the offensive coordinator job in Lexington.
He’s also coached running backs at three other SEC schools (Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee).
Gran was already garnering attention for jobs at some smaller schools, and if he can help Kentucky reach the postseason this season, it will only help his chances of getting a top job somewhere down the line.
DAVE ARANDA, LSU
Aranda is the third defensive coordinator in the past three seasons at LSU, but his defenses at Wisconsin were already earning him attention in head coaching searches.
His Badgers led the nation in scoring defense last fall, and over his three-year career in Madison, his teams were first nationally in total defense and second in points allowed.
“We really just looked for a quality defensive coordinator,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I interviewed Dave and he was the best interview by far. When we lost Steele, we wanted to get the best and were fortunate to get Dave. He was pursued by several coaches, several job opportunities. We were fortunate to have him choose to be with the Tigers.”
ED ORGERON, LSU
His head coaching stint at Ole Miss from 2005-2007 didn’t go all that well, but Orgeron has done well for himself since then.
He’s coached in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, while making college stops at Tennessee, Southern Cal and LSU, where he now coaches the defensive line.
He was 6-2 as USC’s interim coach in 2013 and that success, coupled with the fact that he’s a gifted recruiter, will likely land him on some watch lists in the near future.
BOB SHOOP, TENNESSEE
Shoop is the new defensive coordinator at Tennessee after coming down from Penn State, and he is already regarded as one of the better defensive minds in college football.
He’s confident, and is already a good source of quotes.
“If we learn how to finish, we can take this thing from nine wins to 11 wins, so that first Saturday in December, we can all make hotel reservations in Atlanta every year representing the SEC East,” he told Gridiron Now. “That’s what our aim is — to compete for SEC championships and get to the College Football Playoffs.”
If he gets that done, his stay in Knoxville could be a short one.